IU suspends political science professor for helping Palestine rights student group

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Indiana University has suspended Dr. Abdulkader Sinno for helping a student group host an event on campus, a move Sinno and other faculty members are alleging is unjust.

The professor of political science was suspended for bypassing formal procedure when he assisted the Palestine Solidarity Committee (PSC) in organizing a public event on the Israel-Hamas war.

IU political science professor Jeffrey Isaac and other faculty members wrote in a letter Isaac circulated that Sinno's suspension for the spring 2024 and summer 2024 semesters is both an act of censorship by the administration, and a violation of a Bloomington campus-specific policy that grants faculty members facing severe sanctions a hearing by a faculty board.

"The Whitten administration has decided to make an example out of me to chill academic freedom and legitimate free speech on Palestinian human rights," Sinno said.

The Herald-Times requested comment from IU Provost Rahul Shrivastav, but has not received a response.

IU suspends Sinno after Miko Peled event

Vice Provost Carrie Docherty suspended Sinno, an associate professor of political science and Middle Eastern studies at IU Bloomington, on Dec. 15 for helping to organize and attending an event featuring Miko Peled. Peled, an Israeli-American IDF veteran and peace activist who has been critical of Israel, spoke at IU on Nov. 16.

Sinno, who is the faculty advisor for the PSC, filed a room reservation request on Nov. 6 to host Peled. Docherty's suspension letter alleges in his request form, Sinno incorrectly stated he was not filling out the form on behalf of someone else, mislabeled a student organization event as an “academic talk,” and failed to file the room request within the 10 business days that are standard university policy.

Carrie Docherty
Carrie Docherty

The letter noted that IU policy requires requests submitted by student organizations provide additional information in order to receive approval, and suggested Sinno’s failure to identify the request as a student organization event was, “at best misrepresenting the event, and at worst circumventing the process required of a student organization in gaining all the necessary approvals for an event.”

Docherty’s letter also said Sinno didn’t request security for the event, despite the PSC requesting security in a request they separately filed for the same event.

Docherty said Sinno’s decision to not include security requests in his form, “forces me to question your ability to meet your obligation as a member of the University Community to prioritize the health and safety of students, faculty, staff, or visitors who might attend the event.”

The letter alleges Sinno and the PSC proceeded with the Nov. 16 event despite notification from IU to Sinno on Nov. 15 that the event had been denied or canceled.

Beyond procedural violations, Docherty’s letter repeatedly calls into question Sinno’s credibility and leadership as the PSC’s faculty advisor.

“This sanction reflects my grave concerns about your lack of credibility in participating in the investigation, the potential consequences of diverting police resources for an event that did not have proper approval, as well as the impact of your conduct on our students,” the letter said.

Docherty's suspension prohibits Sinno from engaging in “any and all teaching responsibilities” this spring and summer. Docherty also requested Sinno be removed from his faculty advisor role for all university student organizations for a full calendar year.

'Trumped up charges': Faculty fear curtailing of free speech

The letter distributed by Isaac, and initially cosigned by 11 other faculty members, alleges Docherty’s disciplinary action violated written procedural policies on Bloomington’s campus that uphold principles of shared governance. The letter warned that Sinno’s suspension fed into larger attempts to curtail free speech on college campuses amidst the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas.

"Vice Provost Carrie Docherty couldn’t find a single policy violation to leverage against me so she made up a hodge podge of frivolous accusations without merit as a pretext to impose severe sanctions on me," Sinno said. "Docherty was supposed to submit her case to the Faculty Misconduct Review Committee, where her case would have failed, so she chose to contravene IU policies and impose sanctions herself."

The letter, which has garnered over 200 additional signatures from faculty across all IU campuses, said Docherty’s suspension of Sinno is a violation of a Bloomington campus-specific policy that requires a Faculty Misconduct Review Committee (FMRC) hearing for alleged violations that impose severe sanctions. After such a hearing, the committee would make recommendations to the provost.

Jeffrey Isaac
Jeffrey Isaac

“We feared that this would happen, so there’s a broader political context,” Isaac said. “And I think that that lies behind this suspension on what I would describe as very technical and trumped-up charges.”

In November, Rep. Jim Banks sent a letter to IU asking Whitten to “aggressively respond to reports of antisemitism” and to answer six questions related to antisemitism on IU’s campus.

Sinno said he believes the university targeted him for his role as the student groups advisor.

Abdulkader Sinno
Abdulkader Sinno

"They seem keen to please ultra-conservative politicians like Jim Banks who dislike speech that defends Palestinian human rights," Sinno said.

IU profs: Jim Banks' letter alleging antisemitism on campus aims at 'heart of democracy'

Sinno also said the university administration also cancelled an art exhibition by Palestinian-American and IU Alumna Samia Halaby at the Eskenazi Museum of Art.

Faculty fears erosion of shared governance on IU Bloomington campus

Steve Sanders, professor of law at the Maurer School, said the function of the FMRC is critical to the concept of shared governance on Bloomington’s campus.“The involvement of your peers as a faculty member before you are disciplined like that is a very important principle of what we call shared governance, the idea that faculty and administrators together share responsibility for the day to day running of the university,” Sanders said.

Sanders said after Sinno received his suspension, Sinno’s lawyer contacted Docherty to inform her that her unilateral suspension was a violation of Faculty Disciplinary Procedures policy. Sanders said he and fellow Maurer School professor J. Alexander Tanford also wrote a letter of opinion to Docherty and the General Counsel regarding the authority of the FMRC on Bloomington’s campus, as both professors had been involved in writing and revising the policy.

“And the response from the general counsel was basically, ‘No, we don’t agree with this, and we’re just gonna stand by the initial decision,’” Sanders said.

Sanders said the FMRC doesn't have the authority to overrule the provost to give Sinno a hearing nor a pathway to appeal.

“This kind of thing depends on the good faith of the administrators,” Sanders said. “What we have here, sadly, is a clear example, I think, of bad faith.”

Sinno said he feels compelled to push back on the decision.

"If I don’t push back then I would be complicit in destroying the values that made IU a great university," he said. "I fear that the Whitten administration will destroy the very essence of what made IU a great university: faculty participation in governance, academic freedom and the right to legitimate free speech for both faculty and students. Without them, a university has no soul. It becomes a corporate diploma mill."

While Isaac believes the accusations levied against Sinno are part of a larger trend of censorship by universities surrounding the Israel-Hamas conflict – he cited the suspension of two pro-Palestine groups by Columbia University on similar, technical grounds as another example – he said the violation of standard procedure for Sinno’s suspension is a danger to IU’s shared governance and academic freedom.

“It’s not just an injustice to Sinno,” Isaac said. “It’s an injustice to those students who are being deprived of their faculty advisor, and also an injustice to all students who are deprived of his teaching and mentoring.”

Reach Brian Rosenzweig at brian@heraldt.com.

This article originally appeared on The Herald-Times: Indiana University suspends professor for helping students host event